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Masdar Institute’s SEAS harvest marks critical milestone in development of sustainable aviation biofuel

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology’s Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC)—a non-profit entity supported by Etihad Airways, Boeing, Takreer, Safran and General Electric— announced that its flagship project, the Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS) (earlier post), has reached a critical milestone in its development of sustainable aviation biofuels through the first harvest of the biofuel feedstock. Masdar Institute is a part of the Khalifa University of Science and Technology.

Dr. Alejandro Rios G., Director of the SBRC, led a team of Masdar Institute researchers in harvesting the first crop of the biofuel feedstock Salicornia, which is a local salt-tolerant and oil-rich plant. The harvesting took place at a two-hectare SEAS pilot facility in Masdar City, where seafood and sustainable biomass are being cultivated using saltwater and desert land to contribute to the UAE’s sustainable food and fuel security.

Harvesting the Salicornia is the first in a series of steps before the oil collected from its seeds is ready to be refined. The steps include drying and grinding the plants, winnowing out the seeds, extracting the oil from the seeds by pressing, and finally cleansing the oil to remove any impurities.

In February 2018 the clean Salicornia oil is to be processed at the Takreer Research Center for conversion into aviation biofuel. Once the process is complete, the biofuel will be mixed at low concentration with regular jet fuel to power a flight by Etihad Airways on a Boeing aircraft.

In achieving this key milestone, the SBRC is closer to establishing a truly sustainable model for aviation fuel production using only our local resources. The success of the SEAS pilot facility, and the collaborative research effort that has supported it, exemplifies our commitment to providing sustainable solutions to the UAE’s food security and energy needs.

—Dr. Steve Griffiths, Interim Executive Vice President for Research, Khalifa University of Science and Technology

Alternative sustainable fuels are a key facet in ensuring the future of aviation. This milestone, leading to our first flight on a truly sustainable homegrown biofuel, is a reflection of the commitment not just of our airline and the SBRC partners but of Abu Dhabi.

—Peter Baumgartner, CEO Etihad Airways

The SEAS pilot facility has six aquaculture units that use seawater to raise fish and shrimp. The fish farm produces a nutrient-rich effluent, which is directed into the halophyte fields where it fertilizes the oil-rich Salicornia plants. The leftover effluent from the process is then diverted into the cultivated mangrove forests, which further purify the water and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while sheltering fish nurseries that live around their underwater roots.

Food security is a challenge for desert regions, especially as populations rise. Close to 70% of the UAE’s seafood is currently imported, and SBRC’s integrated system, with extensive aquaculture as a key element, will not only support the need for aviation biofuels, but also support growing food demand in a sustainable way.

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